treating-chronic-illness-with-self-compassion

Treating Chronic Illness with Self-Compassion

This post will be discussing some pretty heavy topics that may be bothersome to some readers. Discussion of self-hatred and self-harm are within this post. Please read responsibly and remember that you are not alone in your journey.


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve discussed using self-compassion as a means of dealing with a chronic illness, but I haven’t gone into much detail over how and why that will be helpful. A lot of things happen when dealing with a chronic illness or a disease that severely impacts your life. You go through various stages of grief, wishing your life would be normal, and you hopefully get to a point where you accept that “normal” isn’t going to look like everyone else’s.

What happens is a lot of feelings of personal frustration towards the illness and yourself. When this happens, it’s important to treat yourself with a loving acceptance so you can begin to heal emotionally.

Body & Mind Betrayal

The biggest stumbling block is the betrayal of mind and body (dependant on the illness). Our mind doesn’t understand why our body no longer responds in the way it once did. If we were able to go an entire day without needing a break, our mind struggles to accept needing a nap mid-morning otherwise we’d collapse. Often questions such as these come up:

  • Why is my body like this?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • How/did I cause this?
  • Why did it have to be me?
  • Will I ever be healthy or whole again?
  • Why can’t I be like everyone else?

The answer to these questions, if there even is an answer, varies from person-to-person. Some illnesses just need an appropriate medication regimen to return a person to normal, and for others, we will have to adapt to the new normal. When we are able to compare our life now to what our life once was, feeling frustrated, angry, and betrayed by our body is normal.

Normalizing Self-Hatred

I already dealt with self-hatred before I was diagnosed with MS. When I received my diagnosis there was a time where I thought that I deserved it. I was a bad person and bad things like this happen to people like me.

Because I reached to self-hatred as a coping mechanism, I normalized my self-hatred even further.

If you never dealt with self-hatred prior to your diagnosis, you may not have an issue with it now, but there’s a possibility you start feeling hatred for you body post-diagnosis.

That self-hatred may be beyond your control. Some illnesses can change brain chemistry to make you feel and think things that aren’t normal for you. The very act of getting the illness could bring about feelings you’ve never experienced before in your life. I am not saying that everyone will hate themselves, but if you’ve noticed it happening more in your life, it may be because your chronic illness.

It’s important to recognize this happening and finding a way to healthfully manage it.

Working with your body even when it won’t work with you

With some chronic illnesses making meaningful physical and emotional changes can be difficult. Especially if you want to jump from zero to sixty within the next year or so. I am the kind of person who wants to jump fully into a new endeavor without considering logistics or consequences.

Exercise, both mental and physical, is extremely important in managing chronic illness symptoms. It can reduce stress, minimize symptoms, and help your overall perspective – moving you away from feelings of self-loathing. This won’t be a cure-all, but it is a great way to complement the care you are giving yourself as you manage your illness.

Because you know your body better than anyone, even a healthcare provider at times, you know what you are capable of and able to push yourself to do.

That said, sit down with a professional in whichever arena you want to start working on to help guide you through the process:

  • Emotional changes: ask your neurologist or healthcare specialist for a therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist recommendation. Chances are they know someone who specializes in your illness so you won’t be playing catch-up with the nuances. If they don’t have one, insurance portals can have a list of recommended professionals.
    • Go in with a plan of what you want to work on. This might be feelings of doubt, depression, self-hatred, frustration, or learning to cope with your new normal. A plan does not need to be strictly followed, but it will give you some direction to get started.
    • Don’t just settle on the first therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist you try out. If you don’t feel comfortable with them or that they aren’t listening to your needs/concerns – move on. You want someone who works with you, not against you. Especially with the mental and emotional work.
  • Physical changes: speak with your healthcare professional for some ideas on an exercise program or prescription for physical therapy. If they aren’t able to provide a cheap/free program recommendation for your situation, get their honest opinion of what you are capable of doing, especially on your own. Use that information in your research.
    • Look at the main awareness website for your chronic illness. Many of them have articles written on exercise recommendations for people in your situation. It’s a great starting point.
    • Look at a local pool for swim classes to get you started. If you have mobility or inflammation issues, the water can help alleviate stress on your body while helping to keep you stable.

Additionally, stick with whatever medication regimen recommended by your healthcare professional. If it’s not working for you or you are having really bad side-effects, bring this information to your doctor. Self-care begins by following peer-reviewed and tested medical practices. It won’t be one-size-fits-all, so you’ll have to make adjustments, but make those adjustments under the guidance of a professional.

The goal in taking these steps is regaining a sense of control over your mind and body. This will help you when you need to engage with self-compassion when you need it.

Treating Chronic Illness with Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is about giving yourself permission to feel bad and have bad days. It’s about being gentle with yourself when getting out of bed is the last thing you can think about. It’s also about pushing yourself a little harder because you know you are capable of completing a task.

Self-compassion is giving ourselves the advice we’d give friends in similar situations. With a chronic illness we’re stuck in our own perspective and sometimes unable to see that we need the love we’d give our friends (and our friends might be giving us).

Creating a mantra, an exercise we practiced in a recent newsletter, to help respond to any doubts or feelings you frequently have will help get you started on your path of self-compassion.

A good starting point is to answer those questions we asked ourselves earlier:

  • Why is my body like this? This is my body with my illness and while I may not have an answer to the “why,” it still takes care of me by functioning.
  • What could I have done differently? Unfortunately, chances are there was nothing I could have done differently. These things happen and it wasn’t my fault.
  • How/did I cause this? (If my illness is based on behavior or exposure from my past, I played a role, but that is in the past.) Chances are, nothing I did caused this, therefore blaming myself is unproductive. My present is now and I will move forward by loving what I am in this moment.
  • Why did it have to be me? Nothing out of our control happens to us to single us out. It happened and the only thing I can do is move forward and take control over my life in whatever way is possible.
  • Will I ever be healthy or whole again? I may never return to what I once was, but I can be healthy and whole in a new capacity. Having a chronic illness does not have to impact my outlook or ability to make changes.
  • Why can’t I be like everyone else? Sameness is overrated. This illness might bring out a part of me I never explored otherwise and I should take advantage and love that about myself.

Self-compassion will not cure your illness, but it can make it easier if you treat yourself kindly as you work through it. I have found that with self-compassion I am able to make more rational decisions about my health and stay motivated when I create a personal goal for myself.

It is important to see ourselves as worthy of our own love, illness and all, because we have so much we can contribute to all around us.

If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ve already seen some of the content and suggestions I’ve been making for readers. If you aren’t, it’s never too late to sign up and join the challenge.


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Featured photo credit:  Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “Treating Chronic Illness with Self-Compassion

  1. Pingback: How I Manage my Fatigue & Numbness | MS Mommy Blog

  2. Pingback: Become Your Ideal Self (Despite a Chronic Illness) | MS Mommy Blog

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